I think we all struggle with being kind to ourselves. I know I could be kinder to myself. I struggle with self-acceptance and my inner monologue seems to constantly repeat the need to be better because I am just OK at whatever I do. I can honestly say that I don’t feel I’m an expert on any particular subject or skill (unless that skill is always being able to find the one negative thing in the sea of my positive accomplishments).
This negative self-talk is, no doubt, a result of me having unreal expectations and constantly comparing myself to others. I know better than to do this but sometimes it seems unconscious or compulsive. Having expectations of myself that are based on the comparison of others doesn’t allow for growth or the opportunity to practice kindness to myself. Getting caught up in this mindset is toxic. I slip in and out of this all the time. I take myself down a notch every time by saying, “That was OK, but you’re still not as good as that person.”
As if living with this mindset isn’t challenging enough, trying to change requires concerted effort and practice. It’s tempting to want to say in a bad mood and stew in your state of self-loathing. It’s almost comforting to be there. It’s known. It’s easy.
So how do I break this mindset?
Understand your comparison
The first thing I do is understand what I’m comparing myself to. What makes me think I didn’t do well? Am I comparing myself to another person? Accept that we’re all on different paths and have varying progression levels and experiences.
“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain
I’ve found that I can break almost all of my negative mindsets with gratefulness. This is tough sometimes, but try anyway! Find one thing that you can be grateful for even if you don’t feel you succeed. Expand on that one thing. Give it focus and thought. Be proud of it! Try saying it out loud. It helps!
Be happy for others
You know that person that you have been comparing yourself against? Give them a compliment and tell them what you liked. Do it in a sincere manner and avoid jealousy. We’re all in this together and just because someone does something “better”, doesn’t mean that you can’t also do it well.
When I feel like I am failing or have failed, the last thing I want to do is try again. This is one of the most important steps, though. I remind myself that today’s product is merely part of the whole. You are what you do repeatedly, so keep pushing to get back up when you are feeling like you have failed. Be constantly and consistently in process. Focus on the process. Setbacks will happen, but refuse to see them as failures.
How do I avoid feeling like this next time?
Adopt a growth mindset
I reassure myself that if I continue to work and learn, I will get better. Take a look at how far you’ve come and the changes you’ve made. This is especially true in my improv. It took months of classes and practice until I felt I had an OK scene.
Set better goals
If setting goals works for you (and they should), make sure they’re goals based on what you can achieve and not what others are doing. Make it a specific goal and don’t be afraid to make it small goals to achieve a larger one. Give yourself a metric that you can strive to hit so you’re comparing yourself to what you set out to do and not an arbitrary measurement, even if it’s as simple as “I’m going to find one thing I can be proud of.”
I’m guilty of setting high expectations for myself, and I feel terrible when I don’t meet them. As improvisers, we cannot walk into a scene with expectations. The scene will fall apart as soon as we do. Expectations are an arbitrary thing. It’s much better to set goals that push you to get better and have zero expectations.
“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” – Michael J. Fox
Change your self-talk
Don’t “should” all over yourself. “I should have done/said that.” That thing you said/did is a result of your past experiences and choices. Accept that you are where you should be in your journey. Continuing to tell yourself that you are terrible at something creates a self-fulling prophecy. You are who you think you are.
I feel that being kind to myself is something I’ll always need to work on, and I will no doubt feel down on myself at some point. I understand that I’m not alone and with work, I can break out of that mindset. Just like any other skill it will take practice to master.